Editor's note: Throughout the month of February, ParentMap is exploring the concept of "having it all." Each week, we'll feature a different essay from a mother that explores her idea of what "having it all" means and how she's adapted the idea to suit her needs and the needs of her family.
If you looked at my life, it would look exotic and fun. In fact, it would probably look like the perfect life, held together by a smiling and happy mom. For someone looking in, I would appear to have it all: a loving husband, three wonderful children, a great job. I’m able to work, or not.
But throughout my years as a parent, I’ve learned that while having it all is a standard we strive toward, it's also a standard we simply can’t meet. Sure, I have had all those things, but very rarely all at one time. I can’t have my dream job and the steady home life I want. I can’t work a 40-hour week and have dinner on the table each night. Over the past 10 years, I've had a full-time job, no job, a work-from-home job. All of which have brought me fulfillment, happiness and struggles.
Having it all is a feeling as much as an accomplishment. Sure, I have a house full of love. I have a husband who supports my every step. But, as a military spouse, I have to be willing to drop everything to pick up both parenting roles when my husband walks out the door. I’ve moved away from friends and family, from a great support system, from a job I loved. I’ve solo parented through deployments, I’ve given up those few precious things that were “mine” as a parent and trekked across the country, to start all over again.
When I finally realized that I didn't have to have it all at the same time, I was able to truly enjoy the time with my children.
And, just like every other parent, I have felt inadequate because of my work or because I wasn't working. The guilt of putting my children in childcare is equivalent to the guilt of feeling frustrated when they’re home with me and I’m not enjoying it. I feel like I miss out on opportunities because I can’t just leave my children for extended periods of time. And then I feel guilty when I leave them for those few days.
When I finally realized that I didn't have to have it all at the same time, I was able to truly enjoy the time with my children. As I left a full-time office job to spend more time with my kids, I thoroughly enjoyed the time before my second child started school. I was able to appreciate those moments we had, and remind myself in the frustrating ones that this was what I truly wanted.
My time would free up when she started school and I could do more things for me. I could volunteer or work part-time and still be home in time to greet them after school and put dinner on the table. I was happiest with this arrangement as primary caregiver and making time for me.
After having a third child, I realized that I would once again, not have it all right now. Some things had to be put aside and the joy that I've found in my children because of putting aside that self-imposed pressure has allowed me to be a better parent.
I’m not sure if I will ever have it all, at one time. And I’m not sure I want to. The idea of having all of it at one time seems exhausting. I’m not convinced having my dream job and being the primary caregiver would work out. How would I find the time to be a great employee and a great mom? How would I balance those things with my marriage? Is having it all really worth being unhappy in all of those things? I think I’m happiest having the things that are most important right now, and having the rest later.